Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt: Obama Groping In The Dark

The events of the past week in Egypt took the Obama administration by surprise. It did not foresee the mass revolt against Washington’s longtime asset, Hosni Mubarak. Even as tens of thousands of workers and youth were defying police violence last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was vouching for the stability of the regime.

The United States is heavily invested—politically, economically and militarily—in the Mubarak regime. Its reluctance to dispense summarily with the dictator is not an expression of sentimentality. Rather, the United States fears that the too rapid ditching of Mubarak will undermine the confidence of other dictators on the CIA payroll in the reliability of Washington.

However, in the final analysis, Mubarak’s fate is a secondary matter. Of incomparably greater concern to Washington is the survival of the Egyptian military and security services upon which capitalist rule depends.

At the moment, the Obama administration is concerned that an attempt to use the army to crack down on the protests could lead to the military’s collapse. It is not certain that the troops can be relied on to shoot down citizens on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and other cities, which might be the only way to save Mubarak.

US policymakers are haunted by the precedent of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Washington had not prepared a political alternative to the Shah, and the Iranian military cracked beneath the pressure of the revolution. The result was the loss of a critical client state in the Persian Gulf.

The policy being developed in Washington has, in the short term, two aims: to shore up the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus—hence the appointment of intelligence chief and former general Omar Suleiman as vice president—and to prepare a political alternative to Mubarak if his removal proves necessary. But any replacement sanctioned by Washington will be nothing more than a puppet providing pseudo-democratic window dressing for a new military regime.

One candidate for the job is Mohamed ElBaradei, who is being promoted by the US media. A trusted representative of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, ElBaradei flew to Egypt from his home in Vienna last week for the explicit purpose of heading off a revolutionary overthrow and rescuing the bourgeois regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has agreed to back ElBaradei as it makes its own bid for patronage from Washington.

In a series of television interviews on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly indicated the basic outlines of the counterrevolutionary strategy being developed by the White House. She avoided calling for Mubarak’s resignation while refusing to commit to his continued rule.

In line with the Obama administration’s cynical calls for democratic reform in Egypt, Clinton made the ludicrous statement: “We continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform.” [Emphasis added].

Of what has this 30-year crusade for democratic reform in Egypt consisted? Plying Mubarak with $35 billion in aid, overwhelmingly military, and lauding him as a staunch ally in the wars against Iraq, the defense of Israel and the “war on terror.” Not only has the US colluded in the regime’s murder and torture of political opponents, it has used Mubarak’s intelligence agencies and police as torturers-for-hire in Washington’s policy of kidnapping and “rendering” alleged terrorists.

Clinton added, “And we have to make the distinction, as they [the Egyptian army] are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting and other criminal activity.”

Here Clinton is already distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” forms of protest—the former being those that do not challenge US interests and the latter being those that do. She is laying down the political and pseudo-moral framework for justifying future mass repression.

Washington is aware that whatever government it sponsors will not end the political crisis in Egypt. It is impossible for any capitalist regime to meet a single one of the social or political demands of the masses—for jobs, an end to poverty in the cities and countryside, and the abolition of the brutally repressive police agencies.

Nor will a bourgeois regime end Egypt’s alliance with Israel, which has been an essential component of the country’s strategic role in the Middle East since the trip of President Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, to Jerusalem in 1977. The venal Egyptian bourgeoisie is too complete an appendage of American imperialism to carry out such policies.

The Obama administration’s strategy, therefore, is to prepare the military, behind the façade of a phony “reform” administration, for a future brutal crackdown on the working class. One can be certain that behind the scenes, the Pentagon is conducting a detailed inventory of every regiment, brigade and branch of the Egyptian military to determine which forces can be relied upon.

The burning issue confronting the revolution is political leadership. The American ruling class is well aware of this fact. In an interview published Saturday, Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said, “As in Tunisia, the protests appear to represent a largely leaderless movement with no clear agenda and no way to seize power.”

It is this political vacuum that American imperialism and its clients in the Egyptian ruling class seek to exploit.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

US Chickens Come Home to Roost in Egypt

Mass demonstrations of workers and youth throughout Egypt shook the regime of US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak on Friday. Hundreds of thousands poured into the streets to demand the president’s resignation, denouncing mass unemployment and poverty, clashing with police, and burning down the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party.

The protests came just two weeks after demonstrations forced another US-backed dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, to flee. Significant demonstrations have spread to other countries in the region, including Yemen, Jordan and Algeria.

Like all revolutionary upheavals, the developments in Egypt are serving to clear away hoary myths and lies, including the American ruling elite’s pretensions of support for democracy around the world. These events are exposing the role of the US government as the lynchpin of reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

From the beginning of the unrest, the Obama administration has made clear its support for Mubarak and the Egyptian regime, a critical US ally.

President Obama devoted his remarks Friday evening to defending Mubarak in the face of the mass popular revolt. On a day in which Mubarak’s police killed at least a dozen people, injured hundreds more and arrested an untold number of demonstrators, Obama cynically proclaimed that the US was “calling upon Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters.”

Obama spoke as if he were an innocent observer. But the truncheons, guns, tear gas canisters, water cannons and tanks used by the Egyptian government to suppress the people all bear the stamp, in some cases literally, “Made in the USA.” The US provides Egypt with $1.5 billion a year to finance its apparatus of repression, making it the second largest beneficiary of US aid after Israel.

Obama lectured Mubarak about respecting human rights on the very day that WikiLeaks posted US State Department cables showing that his administration was aware of and complicit in Mubarak’s use of torture and assassination against his political opponents.
Obama reiterated the position expressed by other US officials that “those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” as if there could be any comparison between the state violence meted out by Mubarak and the attempts by workers and youth to defend themselves.

The main aim of Obama’s remarks was to make clear the administration’s continued backing for Mubarak. Obama spoke shortly after the Egyptian president appeared on television to declare that he would not step down and warn that he would enforce “security” against “chaos.” Mubarak’s announcement that a new cabinet would be formed and his empty promises to make democratic reforms and expand economic opportunity only increased the popular outrage, spurring more people to pour out into the streets in defiance of the military-imposed curfew.

The real attitude of the US to the events in Egypt was revealed in Obama’s statement: “The United States has a close partnership with Egypt, and we have cooperated with each other on many issues.”

In other words, the United States views the Egyptian government, despised by its population, as a key strategic ally. These remarks echo those of Vice President Joseph Biden, who said on Thursday, as Mubarak moved to shut off the Internet and deploy special operations forces, that the president “has been very responsible… relative to (US) geopolitical interests in the region.”

By “geopolitical interests,” the administration means the determination of the United States to maintain its hegemony over the Middle East and North Africa, including the region’s vast oil and gas reserves. With military aid and training, the US has propped up corrupt and dictatorial regimes from Egypt to the sheikhdoms in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing Gulf States.

Through covert and overt military operations, the US has worked systematically to undermine any government that posed a potential challenge to its interests. Over the past ten years alone the United States has launched bloody colonialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Egypt has played a critical role in the maintaining US domination, particularly since Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, signed the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978. In 1979, the US lost a key ally with the downfall of the Shah in Iran. Since that time, the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus has worked closely with both the US and Israel in the suppression of the masses throughout the region.

The entire approach of the American government to the events in Egypt is guided by its immense fear that the resurgence of the class struggle in the region will deal a major blow to its geo-strategic interests.

While the administration may be considering whether it can do without Mubarak, replacing him directly by the military or by one or another of the “opposition” figures, it also knows that the fall of Mubarak, coming after the flight of Tunisia’s Ben Ali, threatens to unleash a wave of popular revolt that could sweep through the entire region.

Workers in the Middle East and the Maghreb have demonstrated immense courage and heroism. The struggle, however, is still in its initial stages. The critical question facing the working class is the development of a new revolutionary leadership and program. Absent this, the ruling elite of the region, in alliance with US imperialism, will regroup either to maintain the existing tyrants or impose new governments equally committed to the defense of the existing political order.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tunisia: "The First WikiLeaks Revolution"

American foreign policy specialists have described the events in Tunisia over the past week as the “first WikiLeaks revolution.” This amounts to a grudging tribute from Washington to the impact of the courageous work of Julian Assange and his co-thinkers, who have made public thousands of documents that reveal the predations and crimes of American imperialism and the venality of its client regimes throughout the world.
WikiLeaks has made public ten cables from the US Embassy in Tunis, all signed by US Ambassador Robert Godec. Their content rebuts the lie, regularly circulated by the US government and the American media, that the documents released by WikiLeaks are inconsequential and reveal “nothing new,” or even put US diplomacy in a favorable light. Far from it: the cables contain significant exposures of the corruption of the Tunisian regime and the US “nod and a wink” approach towards torture in the country’s prisons.
They expose the fraud of Washington’s pretense of support for democracy and human rights around the world.
Seven of the cables make evaluations of the regime, commenting on the health of President Zine El Abadine Ben Ali, the corruption of his family, particularly his in-laws, the Trabelsis, and US options for shaping a post-Ben Ali Tunisia. Some highlights include:
June 23, 2008: The now-notorious dispatch headlined “Corruption in Tunisia: What’s Yours Is Mine.” It gives details of the doings, particularly of the Trabelsis—including at least ten known siblings of the first lady and their children—as well as seven siblings of Ben Ali and the president’s children through his first wife. Nearly every significant business in Tunisia involves a member of this extended family, the dispatch reports, adding, “Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.”
The yacht was owned by the head of the Paris office of the investment bank Lazard Frères and was seized by two Trabelsis and repainted. One of the two, Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali, was stabbed to death at the airport in Tunis over the weekend as he attempted to flee the country, when a crowd of anti-regime demonstrators recognized him as a member of the hated “first family.”
July 17, 2009: A dispatch headlined “A Troubled Tunisia: What Should We Do?” describes the regime as “sclerotic” and with no clear successor to Ben Ali. “Many Tunisians are frustrated by the lack of political freedom and angered by First Family corruption, high unemployment and regional inequities,” the US ambassador reports. With 2009 an election year, “Ben Ali is certain to be reelected by a wide margin in a process that will be neither free nor fair.”
July 27, 2009: The cable gives an account of the private dinner for Ambassador Godec and his wife at the home of Mohammed Saker El Materi, Ben Ali’s son-in-law, and his wife Nesrine, the president’s daughter. Godec describes the luxurious conditions in which the family lives, including fountains (in a desert country) and a caged tiger. He calls El Materi “demanding, vain and difficult,” his wife “naïve and clueless,” concluding: “The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians.”
The American media has reported the corruption cables, but has kept silent on three other cables released by WikiLeaks which document the direct collaboration of the US government, under both Bush and Obama, with torture in Tunisian prisons.
March 3, 2008: The cable reports the results of a three-day visit to Tunis by assistant secretary of state David Welch for talks with Ben Ali on terrorism and other regional issues. Ben Ali promised “to cooperate with the United States without inhibitions.” This language has grisly implications, given the widespread use of torture by both Tunisian and American interrogators.
June 18, 2009: The dispatch gives an account of a discussion by the ambassador with an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross who, while bound by a confidentiality agreement after visiting Tunisian prisons, said he “would not like to be in the ambassador’s place” when it came to making a recommendation on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to Tunisian custody.
June 23, 2009: A cable five days later reports that the government of Tunisia is pressuring European countries not to take Tunisian detainees from Guantanamo—in order to insure they are delivered to Tunisian custody—and cites comments by the British and Canadian ambassadors that Tunisia routinely tortures prisoners.
The content of the cables demonstrates why the US government was so furious about the leaks and why it is seeking to prosecute Assange and halt WikiLeaks’ exposures. The revelations have had a definite political impact in undermining the Ben Ali regime and contributing to the mass demonstrations that ousted the dictator.
Far from the exposure of US diplomatic secrets representing no real threat to US imperialist interests, the events in Tunisia show that it can, under conditions of mounting social and political crisis and explosive class tensions in every part of the world, seriously damage Washington’s geo-strategic position.
The Internet played a major role not only in creating the political climate, but also in the organization and mobilization of the mass movement in Tunisia. Thousands of home-made videos of police repression and popular resistance have been posted on the web. The Tunisian people have used Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites to organize and direct the mobilizations against the regime.
It can be certain that the US government will react to the role of the Internet in the events in Tunisia by stepping up its efforts to censor and control the web’s political content.
This underscores the necessity for all those who defend democratic rights and oppose the crimes of imperialism to come to the defense of Assange and WikiLeaks.
Thank you Patrick Martin/WSWS